ISLAMABAD: Next time your mobile phone call drops or goes bad suddenly, don’t blame just the cellular company. Most probably the culprit may be nearby but hidden – the security jammers.
Customers’ ire makes the cellular companies take their complaints to the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to identify and locate the cause. The PTA is responsible for enforcing the Pakistan Telecom (Re-Organisation) Act 1996 that regulates the use of jammers.
“Use and installation of any kind of cellular jammer or disabling device is illegal without first securing a no-objection certificate (NOC) from the Inter Ministerial Committee (IMC) of the Ministry of Information Technology,” PTA spokesperson Khurram Mehran told Dawn.
And that ubiquitous NOC is granted ‘very rarely’ as the IMC does not permit use of jamming devices unless “absolutely necessary, in the context of national security”.
But hundreds of banks and places of worship in Islamabad – and thousands across the country – have got the devices installed without seeking the NOC. Sale of the devices is unregulated and markets are full of them – both of the imported and smuggled kind.
PTA has dismantled and confiscated 60 illegal jammers across the country this year while investigating the complaints of interference by the cellular companies.
“Offices and organisations which intend to protect themselves by installing jamming devices must approach the Inter-Ministerial Committee as it determines their need as well as the specification of the device,” explained a member of the Frequency Allocation Board of the Ministry of Information Technology that does the determination.
“If a 100-metre frequency range can secure an organisation against terror attacks why install a device with a longer range and jam cellphone traffic,” the expert asked. “Some devices’ frequency range causes interference as far away as two kilometres.”
There was a request from the Punjab government for installing jammers in jails to deny the inmates the use of mobile phones, and to prevent possible escape attempts, when prisoners are not supposed to have access to mobile phones in the first place.
Meanwhile, ordinary mobile phone users commonly experience interference at certain locations in Islamabad.
Businessman Salman Hayat says his cellphones stops working whenever he is driving through a patch on the Islamabad Highway between the Shakarparian traffic signal and the Zero Point Interchange.
“I have to disconnect the call and redial after coming out of patch.”
Similar interruptions are experienced beyond the Faizabad Bridge towards Rawalpindi on the highway.
Visitors to the Pakistan National Council of the Arts find their mobiles showing ‘no signals’ while sitting through cultural performances.
But that is for a good purpose. A jingling cellphone jars the sensitive music lover or drama enthusiast at the performance.
A senior PNCA official confided that the cellular jammer, with an effective range of 500 metres, was installed because notices and appeals to spectators to switch off or silence their cellphones during the performance went unobserved.
Initially the PNCA jammer interfered with the digital traffic at the nearby Pakistan Telecommunication Company office and the road and the Northern Areas House certainly and the President’s House probably, necessitating even a lower frequency, he said.
But the officer would not tell if the PNCA had obtained the NOC for installing a jammer.
Cellular companies feel happy at the PTA removing the illegal devices as it supported the industry.
“People just get angry with us, without knowing the real cause. And they have the right to a trouble-free service,” said a cellular company’s official.
“Those illegal and unspecified jammers seriously impact the service quality and resultantly increases dissatisfied customers’ complaints,” admitted the PTA in a statement to Dawn.
“We are taking measures to stop this unlawful activity and warn of strict action against those selling and installing jammers in violation of the law.”